MODERN BASEBALL really want you to believe they're just four ordinary kids. This is a band that made a name for itself by writing painfully topical songs about obsessing over a crush's social media presence—something virtually every millennial can relate to.
In reality, Modern Baseball isn't that ordinary. They're one of the most popular—and arguably one of the most important—active punk bands, which is reflected in the fact that they're fucking impossible to get ahold of. After a week of phone tag, I finally get in touch with guitarist and co-lead singer Jake Ewald, and the cell reception is spotty—the group are en route to Indiana from Ohio, and are feverishly conducting interviews in their van. In other words, they're very busy.
Modern Baseball have become the de facto torchbearer for a micro movement known as the "emo revival"—the first generation of young punk bands for whom "emo" isn't a pejorative. Ewald, however, says Modern Baseball only identify as an emo band through circumstance.
"When old people ask us what kind of music we make, we'll usually say we're a rock band," he says with a chuckle. And while the group may bear a similar aesthetic to their decidedly emo-leaning peers, their new record Holy Ghost has more in common with hyperliterate indie bands like the Mountain Goats and the Weakerthans than anything featured on a Warped Tour comp in the past 10 years.
Ewald—still in his early 20s—suggests that the evolution was less of a conscious decision and more just a result of the band's members getting older. "When we started out and when people started noticing us, they tagged us with [the emo label] and I think thought that we would just be adolescent forever," says Ewald. "It just seemed sort of inevitable that we would evolve as a band, or at least we had hoped that would happen." Holy Ghost belongs to the same category of albums as Waxahatchee's Ivy Tripp and the Sidekicks' Runners in the Nerved World—a new wave of Pitchfork-friendly indie rock that is resoundingly punk in spirit.
Two years ago, Joyce Manor frontman Barry Johnson notoriously exploded at audience members who were stage diving during his band's shows, inspiring an overdue conversation about show etiquette within the punk community. The outcome was positive, assuming you aren't a sweaty Screeching Weasel apologist—pop-punk has grown a social conscience. Modern Baseball have launched a "safe space hotline" that allows members of the audience to text the band's tour manager if they don't feel safe at any time during the band's shows—any concerns will immediately be relayed to venue security.
But social media-core's socially conscious attitudinizing is still sometimes at odds with emo's inherently juvenile timbre (Modern Baseball, for example, have permanently retired the song "It's Cold Out Here" because it contains the lyric "I felt like a bitch/So I told you to get out"). I ask Ewald how he satisfies his gut impulses as a songwriter reared on confessional music without crossing into ethical gray areas. Unsurprisingly, he says it's tough. "I feel like I had a specific moment where I realized that's what I was doing as a songwriter, and so I tried to do the opposite of that, but then initially was like, 'Oh shit, I don't know how to do this,'" says Ewald. "I think now I'll try and write the same sort of song, but it will be from a more intelligent angle and I'll try and learn from the situation instead of just focusing on the primal feelings associated with it."
Holy Ghost isn't just one of the most thoughtful and intelligent emo albums ever released: It's a sign that the genre is finally growing up. And it's about damn time.